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Talking About Salary with Friends

Posted By Jim On 04/28/2008 @ 6:23 am In Personal Finance | 20 Comments

This past weekend I was in a New York Times story about young professionals sharing their salaries [3] with their friends. In it, I was quoted about how I knew the salaries of my friends within a $10,000 spread (I had said about $5k either way) and that we openly discussed our salaries, raises, and other financial details. I was glad the article captured the most important point I was trying to make, not focusing on the fact that we were disclosing a taboo number, which was that sharing information helps everyone involved. The point of knowing my friends’ salaries wasn’t so that we could compare bank accounts, it was so that we would be armed with the most and best information possible to make decisions.

There is only one reason why we all would discuss our salaries and it’s the same exactly reason why people turn to Salary.com. We want to know if we’re getting paid a fair sum for the work we are doing. I knew what my engineering friends earned in a year and I knew the differentials for level of education and area of expertise and the point of knowing was so I could be better educated about my potential value in the workforce. When my friends left, they would disclose the raises they’d be getting to go to another firm. I disclosed how much more I was being paid. For me, it was about learning, with real life data points, what was out there and how I could use it to my advantage.

It’s important to note that we were all in the same field, working for the same employer. There wasn’t a situation of high school friends where life decisions led one to a more lucrative profession or another to a less lucrative one. I don’t see the point in a lawyer sharing a salary with an engineer or a financial analyst sharing her salary with an administrative assistant. Since you’re not in the same industry, that’s not information you can use. In fact, I don’t discuss salaries with my high school friends, or friends in other industries, because it provides no added value (and because it never comes up).

“This is a generation that is much more attuned to teamwork, collaboration and sharing information.” – that’s a quote from the article and one that I feel captures what my friends were trying to do. One prime example of this was that every single year, management would tell employees that “raises weren’t going to be good this year.” By sharing information, we could figure out whether management was feeding us a line or if raises were really not good (it was a defense contractor and we’re spending billions upon billions on defense, plus executives are getting ridiculous bonuses… not everyone’s raise is bad!).

Lastly, one surprising thing I learned in reading the article was that it is/was taboo to talk about how much someone paid for their house. I find that surprising because that is a matter of public record (all home sales and tax records are public), I consider it a much bigger affront to surreptitiously research someone on the internet than it is to come out and ask them. I paid $295,000 for my house. I know roughly (it’s not like I write it down so my memory fades) how much my friends have paid for their homes. It’s not a big deal. I suppose we never learned that talking about that was taboo, but then again the spread of information is valuable.

What do you all think? Salary talk is always taboo? Never taboo? Or are you like me, talking salaries isn’t taboo if there is information to be learned but taboo if it provides no such informational value?


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[3] New York Times story about young professionals sharing their salaries: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/fashion/27salary.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=&st=nyt&oref=slogin

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